Do you struggle to make a clear sound with your chords? Is the high E string always muted in your D, C, A and F chords? If so, I have the solution. Each of the following steps are accumulative, so should be applied at in order, and utilised simultaneously if appropriate.

Fret postions.

This is the easiest thing to diagnose. Whenever a chord doesn’t sound right, beginner students often strum harder, thinking that it will make the chord clearer. This is a great effort at problem solving, but will essentially only amplify the problem.

The first thing to check is your fret position.

It is a myth that our fingers should be placed in the middle of the fret. They should in fact be placed in the ‘corner’ of the fret to the right of your finger if you are a righty, and to the left of your finger if you are a lefty. Your finger should be placed against the fret wire, not on the fret wire. See beneath…

Don’t place your finger in the middle of the fret…
Place your finger in the ‘corner’ of the fret, against the fret wire!

The reason for this is because it is the actual fret wire that causes the string to make a sound. The more confidently the string is held against the fret, the more confident the sound.

Please don’t mistake my use of the word ‘confident’ for pressure. This is the next thing to check.

The Forgotten Finger.

Well, it is actually the thumb. It is easy to underestimate the importance of this digit, and positioning it incorrectly can cause a lot of problems.

The ideal position for the thumb is in the middle of the back of the guitar neck, pointing up towards the ceiling as though you are giving a ‘thumbs up’. If you have a guitar neck with a ‘skunk stripe’ running along the back of it (a’ la some Fender Stratocaster Guitars – largely Mexican and USA models), this stripe is the perfect starting point for guiding and monitoring your thumb position.

When positioned correctly, your wrist should fall beneath the neck of the guitar, opening up a gap between the backs of your fingers and the fretboard. This should also enable a much better use of the fingertips.

Avoid using your thumb over the guitar neck at first, especially if your chords sound dull and muted.
Instead, aim to position your thumb around half way down the back of the guitar neck.
This will help create more space for your fingers on the fretboard and enable better use of your finger tips. Overall you’ll develop a much stronger technique and a clearer sound!

There are of course exceptions to this rule. Famous guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Wilco Johnson would argue against what I’m saying here, because their playing styles involved using the thumb.

They would bend the thumb over the top of the fretboard to fret the low E string in certain chords! Plus, the thumb does have some uses when it comes to muting the low E string in chords like C whilst strumming.

Essentially, what I’m suggesting here is a starting point to develop your fretting technique, from which you can begin to explore developing your own style!

Pressure.

If you have tried putting your finger in the corner of the fret but you are still getting an unclear sound from your chord, it may be with experimenting with additional pressure.

I like to use a certain approach to this to find the optimum pressure for your chord, or indeed single notes. The approach is as follows…

Step 1 – Position your chord on the fretboard as though you are playing it, but relax your pressure on the fretboard whilst keeping the chord shape formed.

Step 2 – Gradually and evenly add pressure to the chord until the notes begin to ring out. As soon as you hear an even sound, stop applying additional pressure.

Step 3 – Enjoy how much less pressure you are now using!

Application.

As with all technical aspects of guitar playing, be careful not to expect consistent results immediately. If you are lucky, you may get immediate and repeatable results fairly quickly.

If on the other hand you are a mere mortal, like me, this approach will take time. consciousness and sensitivity to regularly apply to your playing until it is embedded in your muscle memory, and habitual.

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